Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Businesses Technology

Reasons Behind the Demise of Kodak 200

Posted by Soulskill
from the ran-out-of-moments dept.
pbahra tips a story that goes into the reasons behind Kodak's decline and fall. Quoting: "With digital, a significant shift in mind-set occurred in the meanings associated with cameras. Rather than being identified as a piece of purely photographic equipment, digital cameras came to be seen as electronic gadgets. The implications of this shift were enormous. With digital devices, newcomers such as Sony were able to bypass one of Kodak’s massive strengths: its distribution network. Instead, digital cameras became available in electronic retail outlets next to other gadgets. Kodak was now playing on Sony’s and other entrants’ turf rather than its own. Similarly, Kodak’s brand came to be associated with traditional photography rather than digital."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Reasons Behind the Demise of Kodak

Comments Filter:
  • Pretty simple (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Severus Snape (2376318) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:06PM (#39177517)
    They failed to react to changes in their market.
    • by what2123 (1116571)
      Just wait until they use their remaining resources to legislate their existence for another 20+ years. +1 for Corporation Lobbying.
    • Re:Pretty simple (Score:5, Informative)

      by Tharsman (1364603) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:24PM (#39177755)

      They failed to react to changes in their market.

      Not true, Kodak actually adopted digital technology extremely early. They ventured into inventing many of the first generation digital photography technologies in association with Apple (and that’s biting them in the rear since now the patents they got from that and are using to sue Apple, among others, are being disputed by Apple as also or exclusively belonging to them.)

      What really killed Kodak was the structure. The company had an extremely high profit margin business model in the film arena. So profitable they own[ed?] their own silver mills. When digital photography came to be, and film finally died, a humongous branch of their business died.

      The only way for them to survive would have been to axe a gigantic percentage of the company, firing insane chunks of their manpower and getting rid of a lot of physical assets. The problem with such a move with a publicly traded company is that it makes it sound like the company is dying; investors will pull back in a heartbeat if the company suddenly axes over 60% of their manpower (and I’m being generous, they likely would have had to cut back even more.)

      Another issue was that Kodak had too many eggs in one simple basket. They did go into photocopiers and printers, but those are two shrinking markets. In fact, now that it’s dying the company finally decided that they may as well axe the entire photography business and stick to printers. At this point they have little to lose since everyone knows they are walking dead. Investors that would had pulled out already did.

      Kodak could have expanded in other fields, like computers and displays or TVs, spread their boundaries. This would have made them a bit more resilient to any given branch drying up. Or they could have gone the Apple way and not expand like crazy just because they can, keep a huge stockpile of cash in the bank and not expand operations just because they can afford to, only if they had to. Actually Apple did both. They expanded from computers into music, mobile smartphones, and TV setup boxes (business that is rumored to expand even further) not to mention invent a brand new computing branch with content consumption focused tablets.

      So, Kodak did try to adapt, react and even be proactive, but restricted themselves to the familiar grounds (photography) and decided to live (like most companies) using up almost all their income nearly as quickly as they acquired it.

      • by poetmatt (793785)

        That's what bankruptcy (restructure) is for.

        If you have to cut out a shitload of people and start fresh, then that's what it takes.

        Or they can give up and cut their losses.

        • by Tharsman (1364603)

          You can't file for bankruptcy just because you see that the market is headed in a different direction than you. You must be in very bad position already for that to be an option.

        • by Gerzel (240421)

          Except that isn't what it would have took.

          You have to do that AND keep your investors from bailing out.

          There is no invisible hand of the market to keep things fair or level or insure that good business decisions get rewarded. There are only buyers and people who act irrationally and without full knowledge of what they are acting upon.

        • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

          No, what you have to do is spin your market segments into different public entities, and make the top level a holding company. Slowly try and divest yourselves of assets that won't perform long term. ...kind of what HP tried to do, only the exact opposite. (Or do exactly what they did, and try to be in management of Aligent...)

      • Re:Pretty simple (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anne Thwacks (531696) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:05PM (#39178325)
        No body is mentioning the fact that they had an image problem - at least here in the UK, they were seen as having started as a low price company, worked their way to raising the prices with improvements in quality, and then ditched the quality while retaining the high prices. Kodak could have done loads of things, but with an image of selling over priced tat, they were probably already doomed. (Like Carly Fiorina and HP).

        Meanwhile Samsung has gone from selling cheap tat to top of the range. Who is is making the profit? Is there a lesson here?

        • by Endo13 (1000782)

          Yeah I think that had the most to do with it of anything. Kodak set themselves up as the producer of cameras and film that anyone could afford. Then digital photography came around, and they were right there... but digital cameras are expensive, and Kodak wasn't perceived as a high quality manufacturer. And then as digital photography became cheaper, it also became integrated into cell phones. Now cell phone cameras are the true successor to the cheap Kodak cameras and film. And we all know Kodak doesn't ma

        • by eulernet (1132389)

          Is there a lesson here?

          The lesson is well known: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_technology [wikipedia.org]

        • Re:Pretty simple (Score:4, Interesting)

          by mug funky (910186) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @12:06AM (#39181949)

          interesting. Kodak made the best neg film in the world, and (maybe?) continue to do so.

          their motion picture stocks are crazy high latitude, and crazy low grain. good fun to work with. the latest stocks barely even need light metering - you'll get a picture even if you fuck up completely.

          cinematographers would only use fuji as a special effect or if they had bucketloads of light and could use a slow stock (which would be a little bit sharper than the kodak, but at the expense of less latitude from having a "thinner" emulsion).

          of course, everyone shoots RED now because they're pov. but they still dream of having the budget to shoot film.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I think it's fair to say that Kodak adopted digital imaging about as well as Xerox adapted all of the ground-breaking technology out of Xerox PARC. That is, not well at all.

        Many people say they should've gone into the camera business but I don't think that would've worked. Not many American companies can compete in the world of consumer electronics these days and the digital camera business is mostly a consumer electronics industry.

        Maybe they should've tried to create the iTunes and iPod of photography.

      • Re:Pretty simple (Score:5, Insightful)

        by icebike (68054) * on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:29PM (#39178599)

        Not true, Kodak actually adopted digital technology extremely early. They ventured into inventing many of the first generation digital photography technologies in association with Apple (and that’s biting them in the rear since now the patents they got from that and are using to sue Apple, among others, are being disputed by Apple as also or exclusively belonging to them.)

        What really killed Kodak was the structure. The company had an extremely high profit margin business model in the film arena. So profitable they own[ed?] their own silver mills. When digital photography came to be, and film finally died, a humongous branch of their business died.

        I'm not so sure it wasn't failure to adapt after all. In fact, your own description pretty much says it was.

        It was a given that film was going to go away fairly early. While Kodak did make some forays into digital photography, they did not lead the charge into a whole new way of doing business. It happened without them. They were not a significant player.

        Additionally they ceded the only other remaining aspect of the old methods to HP. They pretty much dropped the ball on printing too.
        That previously relied on a silver process, and Kodak simply could not get away from that silver technology in any meaningful way.
        So both sides of the company got hit with a new technology, and rather then leading the way, Kodak hung on to the past.

        Their only chance for survival would have been to wholeheartedly embrace digital photo printing, where they at least had the chemical expertise, and the possibility to retain a "consumables" portion of the business, in ink, paper, and also devices (printers). But HP beat them in that market as well.

        While a dozen companies make photo printers, (even Kodak) they are a huge pain in the neck, the ink is always dried out when you need it, the paper is way too expensive, way too finicky, and the archival quality is abysmal. Few people bother to print family photos as a result.

        Sadly lost in all of this is the family photo album, or the shoebox of history. Nobody prints photos anymore. Entire family photo history is lost
        to the first hard drive failure, and the one at a time viewing of computer files on a monitor is simply unsatisfying.

        • by Tharsman (1364603)

          Without axing branches of the company, I guess the only other path would had been to go Sony-Like: offer good quality digital cameras very cheap, cheaper than anyone, and then equip them with a proprietary media format that is sold at an expensive premium. Market this media format as having some imaginary brand related quality to it, same as they did with Kodak brand film.

          Perhaps it's also an issue that they headed into digital too early, at a time where the market didn't care for digital because it was sti

        • by Tharsman (1364603)

          Sadly lost in all of this is the family photo album, or the shoebox of history. Nobody prints photos anymore. Entire family photo history is lost
          to the first hard drive failure, and the one at a time viewing of computer files on a monitor is simply unsatisfying.

          Forgot to answer this: tablets are very likely going to do a very nice replacement for family albums.

      • by mwvdlee (775178)

        Here's another take; Kodak was primarily a chemical company, now trying to compete in electronics.
        Kodak might have been more succesful if they dropped photography and focussed on areas where their expertise was still valuable.
        Ofcourse, any "might have been" is just hindsight.

      • by sjames (1099)

        Part of their problem is that they assumed their name would carry as much weight in consumer electronics as it did in consumer photography and they priced themselves accordingly (high). As it turned out though, they really weren't as good at consumer electronics as their more experienced AND cheaper competition.

        They did get a jump on things and that was enough for a year or two, but as time went on, cellphone cameras and cheap no-name dedicated units became more than good enough, first for casual snapshots

      • by sphealey (2855)

        I'm with your story, except: the APS debacle. I'll agree that it would have been difficult for Kodak to productize and market the digital technology it already had in-house much earlier than anyone else. But with that digital technology already in-house, as noted, why on earth did they think it was a good idea to embark on developing a new generation of film cameras incompatible with the 200,000,000 million units already in use? That money could have been used to buy Minolta (which was certainly on the

    • Re:Pretty simple (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:24PM (#39177757)
      More to the point their Marketing failed to convince their consumers that Kodak was changing with the market.

      Right when Digital cameras were getting popular, Kodak should have gone all out in their marketing trying to sell their own Digital Cameras and far more effort on their Printers and such.

      The problem with their Printer Campaign was they were trying to sell that they have lower Total Cost of Ownership... It is really tough to sell Lower Total Cost of Ownership, They should have pushed High Quality Images... And TCO is one of the benefits that customers will get later.
      • by gl4ss (559668)

        their corp. culture seemd like that even if they had a digital camera thing going, they would have spinned it off..

      • by icebike (68054) *

        Exactly. Film was going to die. Printing was all there was left.

        They pretty much let HP take that away from them.

        There is no reason Kodak could not have pushed both high-end pro-grade printers as well as home-snap-shot printers. They didn't do either with any gusto, and thereby gave up everything they had.

        Photo printing, as a result, still sucks so bad that we put up with digital picture frames!! OMG, what an abomination.

        • by roc97007 (608802)

          Exactly. Film was going to die. Printing was all there was left.

          They pretty much let HP take that away from them.

          There is no reason Kodak could not have pushed both high-end pro-grade printers as well as home-snap-shot printers. They didn't do either with any gusto, and thereby gave up everything they had.

          Photo printing, as a result, still sucks so bad that we put up with digital picture frames!! OMG, what an abomination.

          That's the real tragedy in this -- Kodak had clearly superior printing technology. Had they moved the technology in their kiosks into home printers at a wide range of features/price, HP would not now own low end home printing, and Epson would not now own high end (8 cartridge, roll paper) home printing. They tried to market pixel-based inks and Kodak paper into the homes, but wayyy too late, giving HP the consumer market, and concentrated on low end home and home office, letting Epson have the home pro ma

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        The problem is that Kodak never really made much money from cameras. They made it selling film, not necessarily used in Kodak cameras. If you were a professional photographer, you would probably buy your camera from Canon or Nikon, but you would put Kodak film in it. The professional photographers still use Canon and Nikon cameras, but they now put memory cards in them.

    • Oversimplification (Score:5, Informative)

      by Comboman (895500) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:28PM (#39177815)

      They failed to react to changes in their market.

      That's not entirely true. They saw digital photography coming before most people did (they still have many of the original digital photography patents to show for it). They had digital cameras [wikipedia.org] on the market while Canon and Nikon were still saying bits would never replace film, and Sony was still making cassette Walkmans. Their biggest problem was public perception rather than reality. People still saw them as a film company rather than a camera company.

    • by na1led (1030470)
      When I purchased my first Digital Camera for under $100, that's when Kodak's film cameras died!
      • by jd (1658)

        Yes, that is true. But it's for a very stupid reason. To buy a digital camera that has the resolution of a film camera still costs many thousands of dollars. To buy one that also has the dynamic range is even more costly That is unlikely to change within the next decade. (The odds of being able to buy a digital camera with a sensor large enough to compete with medium format film, never mind large format, is practically zero.)

        As for longevity of media - I am currently working through family archives of negat

    • by DesScorp (410532)

      What killed Kodak was simple marketing. They were too late to associate digital photography with the Kodak brand. They invested in the tech early, they just didn't push hard enough for mindshare. There's no reason they couldn't have succeeded the way the Japanese camera companies did. They just made bad choices in promotion.

      • by owlnation (858981)

        What killed Kodak was simple marketing. They were too late to associate digital photography with the Kodak brand.

        Maybe. Though, I'm curious to understand why Fuji succeeded and Kodak failed.

        There seems to be very little external difference between the two companies. They both made film for stills and motion pictures, they both made basic consumer cameras. I'm not personally aware of any more marketing that Fuji did that Kodak didn't. Kodak most usually had the advantage of being the first in most of it

    • by amorsen (7485)

      They failed to react to changes in their market.

      The market didn't change, it disappeared and was replaced with a new market. Kodak tried to switch to that new market, but since it had no particular advantage over its competitors, it failed.

      Kodak had two real strengths, its chemical products and its widespread distribution where people could always get their film to somewhere who could develop them and get the finished prints/slides back. Suddenly it is producing electronics and the distribution network is mostly a hindrance rather than a help.

      The prudent

    • by jythie (914043)
      Meh, this is like 'Netflix killed Blockbuster'.. a common and accepted meme but ignores the destructive buisnes practices going on. Kodak had, essentially, a raider for a CEO. He kept selling off profitable divisions in order to boost short term profits and then found a company with everything that worked owned by someone else. At which point he took his millions and did fine.
  • So, let them die. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:07PM (#39177535) Homepage

    I'm not sure why people think that it wasn't a right and proper thing for Kodak to die.

    Kodak's strenght was film photography. There turned out to be plenty of other companies with strengths in digital, why should Kodak have colonized that market? Let them produce the stuff they're good at as long as people want it, then quietly go away. There's no reason corporations need to be immortal.

    • by Tharsman (1364603) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:10PM (#39177581)

      I am not sure if anyone is arguing to "bail them out" or anything like that, but it is an interesting experiment to try to figure out what exactly went wrong and what way would had it been possible to save the company.

      I think in the future, during economy or enterprise management studies; Kodak's history will be deeply dissected and studied.

      • by cshirky (9913) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:19PM (#39177681) Homepage

        But this assumes that the natural lifespan of a company is infinite. What I think Geoffrey is saying is that when Kodak went out of business, the answer to "what exactly went wrong?" is that nothing went wrong.

        Here's an analogy: Imagine I offered you one of two things: 200 millions tons of granite rubble, or a cathedral. Which would you pick?

        The cathedral is the obvious choice -- the stone in its raw state is fairly dull, while a cathedral is a spectacular work of architecture, the fruit of countless hours of skilled human effort. The cathedral has value right now, while the rubble isn't good for much without an enormous amount of additional labor.

        What if labor was part of the equation, though? What if I gave you a choice between the beautiful cathedral and the chaotic rubble, with the stipulation that, after you chose, it was your job to build a bridge.

        Now you want the rubble. Though the cathedral and the rubble are made up of about the same amount of stone, building the bridge out of the rubble will consume all the energy required to build a bridge, but building the bridge out of the cathedral will require all the energy needed to build a bridge plus all the energy required to dismantle the cathedral. For some tasks, it's simpler to start with raw material than with a beautiful structure that has to be dramatically altered to serve your purpose.

        Now imagine I offered you one of two things: You have to build a digital photography business, and you can start with Sony, or Kodak. Which would you choose?

        The problem Kodak faced wasn't that they couldn't have become a digital photography business. The problem Kodak faced was that the digital business was so different from what they are good at that the restructuring costs were crippling, *precisely because they were perfectly adapted to the previous era.*

        • Re:So, let them die. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Tharsman (1364603) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:34PM (#39177903)

          I think there is plenty wrong to find in Kodak's history, but not as obvious as many think.

          I went deep into another post in this article here: http://tech.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2695641&cid=39177755 [slashdot.org]

          There is one common trait that Kodak shares with every single other company out there (and most American households, ironically) and it's that they lived nearly month to month. Unlike households (that tend to just want to enjoy the moment so they don’t save for a year of potential unemployment) most companies don’t like having too much money "burning a hole in their pockets" since they feel every unspent penny is missed opportunity.

          They live with barely enough money to pay operational costs for a month or two. If profits go down, they are forced to fire people left and right (why we see investors go crazy for small 2% profit drops.) Some drastic thing happens that changes your market within a year and you will go bankrupt quickly, even if you are willing to adapt or even if you are yourself the first to start such a market trend.

          • by clairity (853242) *

            I went deep into another post in this article here: http://tech.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2695641&cid=39177755 [slashdot.org]

            There is one common trait that Kodak shares with every single other company out there (and most American households, ironically) and it's that they lived nearly month to month. Unlike households (that tend to just want to enjoy the moment so they don’t save for a year of potential unemployment) most companies don’t like having too much money "burning a hole in their pockets" since they feel every unspent penny is missed opportunity.

            the previous point you made is well taken, but this second one is overly broad in that companies vary in the padding they maintain. the amount of cash a company keeps on hand (or doesn't) depends on industry characteristics, competition, regulatory environment, supply chain risk, and other factors like that. apple is a prime (counter-)example here with $98 billion in cash on its balance sheet. this cash is kept for a variety of reasons, but a few to note: the highly dynamic industry that apple competes in,

            • by Tharsman (1364603)

              Apple is a great example of a company that does not stick to the "little cash on pocket" rule, but it also has been heavily criticized for it. They are a rare exception, though.

          • It's also related to tax policy. Income which is poured back into assets and operating costs is not taxed. The goal for American corporations is to show 0 profit. To do otherwise results in paying more taxes.
        • by nightfell (2480334) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:05PM (#39178319)

          But this assumes that the natural lifespan of a company is infinite.

          No, it doesn't. It assumes the lifetime is indefinite, which is different.

          Unlike, for example, humans who live to around 60-125 tops, companies don't have a built-in expiration date (they used to in the US, but haven't for over a century).

          What I think Geoffrey is saying is that when Kodak went out of business, the answer to "what exactly went wrong?" is that nothing went wrong.

          Nothing went wrong with the market. It did what it's "supposed" to do. The question is what went wrong with Kodak. They didn't do what they are supposed to do.

          What if labor was part of the equation, though? What if I gave you a choice between the beautiful cathedral and the chaotic rubble, with the stipulation that, after you chose, it was your job to build a bridge.

          With business, labor is always part of the equation. Digital photography and film photography aren't like a building and a bridge. It's like a building and a building. Would you rather have a pile of rubble to turn into a restaurant, or a cathedral to turn into a restaurant?

          And stone is much more difficult to rearrange than a company, in terms of labor. It's only harder, potentially, in the mental task of coming up with a solution.

          Now imagine I offered you one of two things: You have to build a digital photography business, and you can start with Sony, or Kodak. Which would you choose?

          Or Nikon or Canon?

          The problem Kodak faced wasn't that they couldn't have become a digital photography business. The problem Kodak faced was that the digital business was so different from what they are good at that the restructuring costs were crippling, *precisely because they were perfectly adapted to the previous era.*

          Nonsense. The problem wasn't that they couldn't change, but that they didn't change. Nikon and Canon (and Olympus and Fuji and countless other film-era companies) made the switch just fine.

          Just because Kodak failed (or, "is failing" might be more appropriate) doesn't mean failure was the only possible outcome for Kodak. The *film* side of Kodak must fail, but the *camera* side of Kodak was under no such restriction.

        • by S77IM (1371931)

          I believe the phrase you want is "They were victims of their own success."

          It's a pattern that repeats constantly. Arguing against results is hard, and usually stupid. When some new kid comes along and says, "Let's stop doing X, which has been tremendously successful, and switch to Y, which is the next new thing?" the rational response is "How's 'New Coke' selling these days?" And yet, that new kid will be right some small % of the time. How can we determine when that guy is correct?

          THAT's the question we sh

      • by grim4593 (947789)
        When I was moving I went through some old college books. I found a 5 year old project management book detailing Kodak's success at adapting to business changes. I threw it out with the rest of the trash.
    • Because they invented the digital camera. They should have capitalized on that fact, my like Xerox should have capitalized on the GUI/mouse system that they had.

      • The problem is that although they invented digital cameras, their expertise as a company was not in cameras and electronics, but in manufacturing film, which is mainly chemistry.
        Kodak were never a big company in cameras (proven by the fact that the high end model they had was just a digital back end for a conventional SLR from one of the main manufacturers, I cannot remember if it was Nikon or Canon).
        Nikon and Canon were camera manufacturers. They adapted to the digital technology, because they had (and h
    • I think it is because Kodak was an American Company. Centered in Rochester NY close by to a lot of popular collages. So when such a company goes out of business it is sad for the community that was built around it.
    • Re:So, let them die. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rob the Bold (788862) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:34PM (#39177905)

      I'm not sure why people think that it wasn't a right and proper thing for Kodak to die.

      Kodak's strenght was film photography. There turned out to be plenty of other companies with strengths in digital, why should Kodak have colonized that market? Let them produce the stuff they're good at as long as people want it, then quietly go away. There's no reason corporations need to be immortal.

      I don't see "people thinking" Kodak should or shouldn't die in TFA . . . more of a postmortem analysis.

      Anyway, I understand that there's no reason for corps to be immortal, but most people working at a given firm would just as soon it didn't go belly up right now while they're working there. Even if you're looking to quit a place, you'd rather do it on your schedule than the liquidator's.

      A sibling of this comment mentions Xerox missing the boat with the GUI, but they seem to have re-invented themselves nowadays doing OCR and image recognition and document and photo management and analysis. Probably too soon to know if this will work, but they did hang on when their market changed.

      Likewise with Kodak, you'd think they could have found other things to do in the photography arena. You've got websites like Flickr that store and share photos, Shutterfly and Snapfish that provide hard copies in formats that an ordinary home or office printer can't produce. Kodak probably should have gotten into those areas, among others. But as TFA mentions, they had such an emotional and physical investment in film they didn't want to let go of it.

      And what about Fuji? They do plenty of digital stuff, but you can still buy their film. TFA doesn't mention what they did differently.

      • And what about Fuji? They do plenty of digital stuff, but you can still buy their film. TFA doesn't mention what they did differently.

        Fuji lives in the middle of many electronics companies, all potential or actual suppliers of all kinds of digital camera parts. Kodak, however, lived in upstate New York, in a Kodak company town (Rochester [wikipedia.org]), and their potential suppliers for digital products a continent away.

    • I'm not sure why people think that it wasn't a right and proper thing for Kodak to die.

      Because most people think fondly of Kodak. I'm not sure why you think people should be cold and calloused about things they like.

      Kodak's strenght was film photography.

      So were Nikon's and Canon's, but they both jumped into digital with both feet.

      There turned out to be plenty of other companies with strengths in digital, why should Kodak have colonized that market? Let them produce the stuff they're good at as long as people want it, then quietly go away. There's no reason corporations need to be immortal.

      No, there isn't. But there's also no reason a company can't go from one market to another. Look at Nintendo, Sega, IBM, Apple, etc. The key is the ability to change with the markets.

      Kodak failed in this regard. And sure, that does mean the company itself "deserves" to fail in the market, but that doesn't

      • Another difference between Kodak and Nikon/Cannon is that those companies continued to develop high end cameras and the trickle the technology down to consumer goods.

        Kodak fell into a mushy middle ground, with no Professnal or pro-sumer products for serious buyers and not enough differential at the low end of the market.

        When I went to buy my first digital cameras, I stuck with the names I knew from film: Cannon, Pentax and Sony (Minolta)

        The Kodaks looked like Modern day Brownies. Functional, but very basic.

    • There's no reason corporations need to be immortal

      Nor, if they're well managed, do they need to die. There's no reason that they couldn't have found a way to evolve to better embrace the digital photography economy, even if they did not own it.

      That being said, I'm mostly going to miss it for the nostalgia value. I grew up in a world where "Kodak" was the "Kleenex" of photography. Everyone I know who is my age or older has owned at least one Kodak camera, and to me, it's a little sad to see the guard change.

    • by jd (1658)

      Many of the Japanese companies that are currently very profitable and successful have existed for hundreds of years. At least two are around 1,500 years old.

      Companies don't need to be immortal, but they don't need to be mortal either. Companies aren't "alive", aren't "people" and aren't subject to decay. They are systems.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "There's no reason corporations need to be immortal."

      Some corporations may beg to differ, and even get government bailouts..

  • Kodak was a photochemicals company. Then film disappeared, and they didn't have expertise in any other areas that would enable them to keep selling something. A best-case scenario for them is liquidation.
    • by peragrin (659227)

      The thing is Kodak sold off the non film production and R&d. Those companies are still profitable.

      Kodak literally made one product and when the market for that product dried up so did Kodak. It all falls down to diversification. Kodak wasn't and so died.

      Do we prop up car companies when someone invents the teleporter?

      Microsoft will probably suffer the same fate. It has two products windows and office. Without those Microsoft wouldn't be profitable and would soon be in bankruptcy themselves

    • by jd (1658)

      No, film is extremely valuable because there are markets that digital CANNOT operate in at present and are unlikely to operate in in the foreseeable future. Kodak should have worked more in those niches and less in the trashy markets.

      • by Drishmung (458368)

        No, film is extremely valuable because there are markets that digital CANNOT operate in at present and are unlikely to operate in in the foreseeable future. Kodak should have worked more in those niches and less in the trashy markets.

        But that doomed Kodak to being at best a niche player, and almost certainly a much smaller company.

        It was foreseeable (if not at that stage inevitable) that film was doomed in the 1970s when astronomers abandoned film for CCDs.

        Once the consumer digital camera was invented (1991, by Kodak!), the doom of film was inevitable. By the mid 1990s, with the rise of consumer grade digital cameras, no reasonable member of the industry could have doubted that film was a niche.

        Kodak had somewhere between 20 and 40 year

      • by jackbird (721605)

        Where? Nobody does film separations for offset printing anymore (it's all digital straight-to-plate); X-rays use digital plates now; a growing number of feature films are shot, mastered, and delivered to theaters digitally; and microfilm is dead.

        The only photochemical process still in widespread use that I can think of is light-sensitive emulsion goo for making silkscreens, and you can't run a multinational corporation with small T-shirt shops as your customer base.

        I'm curious what you have in mind.

  • Canon (Score:5, Insightful)

    by El Lobo (994537) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:08PM (#39177553)

    That didn't prevent other giants of traditional photography like Canon and Nikon to evolve and adapt to the new era, successfully competing again the new kinds.

    • Re:Canon (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:17PM (#39177655)
      I think the difference is, as someone else pointed out, that Kodak was primarily a photochemical (and film) company, whereas Canon and Nikon are primarily camera companies. With the decline of film, came the decline in photochemical usage. As for other photochemical uses, like printers, companies like HP, Brother, etc... have long-standing reputation. As for film itself, I have friends that have preferred Fugi film for many years.
      • Re:Canon (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Artagel (114272) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:51PM (#39178117) Homepage
        Kodak was in the black and white picture printing business since the 1880s. It was in the color printing business by 1835. Hewlett-Packard was not founded until 1939, and it did not start in printers. Brother made its splash in dox-matrix printers in 1971. Kodak could have been far, far ahead of these companies with what we now consider printers. It would have moved in the direction of Xerox and gotten into the printer business. It just did not. It did not ask itself: who is going to cannibalize me, and how do I get in front? Change hit the accelerator pedal, and Kodak was left in the dust.
        • Kodak was in the black and white picture printing business since the 1880s. It was in the color printing business by 1835. ...

          All true, of course, but I was referring to laser/inkjet printers, not film printers - my mistake for being unclear - and their use in the age of digital photography. I believe Kodak vastly underestimated the popularity of digital photos/printing by the masses. Sure simple film prints are less expensive (judging by the price of laser/inkjet photo paper), but people are willing to ignore that for greater flexibility in handling things themselves.

          As for personal Kodak printers, they may be good (I don't k

      • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

        More specifically, Kodak was in the consumables business, and the consumable portion was replaced with a non-consumable solution. They needed to find something to do with all of the businesses focused on consumables, but that was political suicide since it was 95% of their workforce.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's time to realise that Abble's products are the biggest abomination these days. Just say NO to the dumb iAbble way!!

      What the hell is an Abble? Whatever they are Apple will probably sue them for using iAbble as a trademark.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      ever heard of kodak lenses?

      me neither.

    • You have it backward. The digital revolution was a boon to camera companies, not a blow. In the film era, cameras lasted decades. I'm still using my 1979 Olympus OM1, and I'm not sure it's ever even been overhauled. Digital introduced a market where pros and prosumers would be buying new cameras every year or two...especially in the beginning when technology was advancing fast.
  • by drainbramage (588291) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:15PM (#39177633)

    But poorly.
    I never saw a digital camera from Kodak that I would want to use, let alone purchase.
    --
    I had use of a few of their film cameras years ago, none were great.
    I think they were able to sell the cameras cheaper than other companies because they owned the tech for the film and it's packaging format.
    Other than the cheap point and shoot market I never saw Kodak compete well against any other camera company.
    --
    Loved the film though....
    I bought my first digital camera (Pentax) thinking it would make a nice backup to my various film SLR's.
    I was wrong, I never bought film again.

  • They were arrogant, and their digital products reflected this. The DCS line of Pro cameras were hugely expensive with some pretty severe limitations, and their consumer line was a joke.
    Rather than correcting that, they ignored the digital market and at the same time couldn't pick a new direction to go with their existing strengths and in the end, pissed it all away. Even now, they have no clue what they want to be, an ink and printer 'giant'? Give me a break.

    • by powerlord (28156)

      Even now, they have no clue what they want to be, an ink and printer 'giant'? Give me a break.

      They should invest in 3D scanning/printing, and market a reasonable 3D printer. There are several interesting technologies that require consumables, which seems to be what they were best at marketing.

    • by amorsen (7485)

      They weren't arrogant so much as incompetent when it comes to electronics. There is nothing wrong with being a one-trick-pony as long as you know when to give up. It is not necessarily best for society if companies survive forever, sometimes it is better to let the old ones die and new ones appear.

  • by yodleboy (982200) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:18PM (#39177659)
    read this: A Photographer's Eulogy for Eastman Kodak [luminous-landscape.com] a couple of weeks ago and it's a good complement to TFA. Among other things, the author recalls a meeting with a Kodak product manager in the early 90's who's response to digital on the horizon was "How do we stop this thing?" He also notes this wasn't the first time Kodak's ego got in its own way. Anyway, an interesting read.
  • by necro81 (917438) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:23PM (#39177743) Journal
    The reason cited in the summary, the shift in a camera being a specialized piece of equipment to a more prosaic electronic gadget, is probably one of the weakest. Serious protographers, film and digital, have always had, and continue to have, a very...uhhh...special relationship to their kit. Casual photographers always regarded cameras as just a do-hickie: a means to an end.

    The big reason, the one that will be cited in every case study on disruptive technology for the next couple of decades, is that even though Kodak invented the digital camera, they couldn't get past the notion of it cannibalizing their film and development business until it was too late. Probably the #2 reason that will be cited is the consumer's shifting relationship to images: the physical artifact, the print, became much less important in comparison to an image that could be emailed to 10,000 people in an instant practically for free. Or to be able to carry around 10,000 images in your pocket. What people wanted pictures for, and where/when/how they wanted to view them, moved away from the physical artifact with alarming speed.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Kodak's demise started years ago. The company was very diversified back in the 80's and 90's. Chemicals, pharmaceuticals, copiers, all over the place. Then someone took a look at the margins, and decided that the margins the company was seeing on film needed to be the benchmark for the company. Margins on film are ridiculous. Nothing could touch them, and it was a dangerous drug. If Kodak had to make a decision between diverting some cash away from film and into an emerging technology, they choose fil

  • by MpVpRb (1423381) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:24PM (#39177749)
    From Wikipedia...

    1975: Steven Sasson, then an electrical engineer at Kodak, invented the digital camera.

    1976: The Bayer Pattern color filter array (CFA) was invented by Eastman Kodak researcher Bryce Bayer. The order in which dyes are placed on an image sensor photosite is still in use today. The basic technology is still the most commonly used of its kind to date.

    They also produced the first digital SLRs

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodak_DCS

    And, their sensor division made extremely high quality sensors for scientific, industrial and consumer cameras.

    Makes it even more ironic and baffling that they couldn't make it in the digital world.

    • by FaxeTheCat (1394763) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:41PM (#39178797)

      They also produced the first digital SLRs

      ... and on the camera house it says NIKON. So they produced a digital back end for a Nikon camera (I once had a print from a picture taken by it. The noise level was nothing short of amazing...).
      Which may explain why Nikon is still big in cameras, while Kodak is not.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      From Wikipedia...
      1975: Steven Sasson, then an electrical engineer at Kodak, invented the digital camera.

      1976: The Bayer Pattern color filter array (CFA) was invented by Eastman Kodak researcher Bryce Bayer. The order in which dyes are placed on an image sensor photosite is still in use today. The basic technology is still the most commonly used of its kind to date.

      They also produced the first digital SLRs

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodak_DCS [wikipedia.org]

      And, their sensor division made extremely high quality sensors for

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:28PM (#39177817) Homepage

    What killed Kodak was the demise of the photographic consumables business. They had a 70% margin on film. The margin on photographic paper was probably even higher. And the developing business was profitable, too. All the consumables products had strong repeat business. Digital cameras offered none of that.

    Kodak kept trying to somehow attach a consumable to digital photography. They tried PhotoCD, printer paper, and ink. They even tried selling flash memory cards. They bought Ofoto, an early picture-sharing site, and tried to make it a pay service. None of those offered the margins or market presence that film did, and none were notably successful.

    Without a consumables business, Kodak had no competitive edge.

    The end came when cameras became a component of phones. There was no longer a defined low-end photography business at all.

    • by starfishsystems (834319) on Monday February 27, 2012 @07:37PM (#39179609) Homepage
      They tried PhotoCD, printer paper, and ink.

      Unfortunately, Kodak charted a doomed strategy with PhotoCD by making the format proprietary. Rather than locking customers into the format as Kodak may have intended, the decision created a huge disincentive for the emerging digital image processing industry to go anywhere near it. And it created a perception that Kodak was not a credible player in that industry.
  • by PCM2 (4486) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:28PM (#39177821) Homepage

    This article struck me as pretty weak. The Economist has done a series of articles on Kodak and I think theirs were much more thorough and insightful.

    Technological change: The last Kodak moment? [economist.com]

    Kodak's woes: Out of focus [economist.com]

    Kodak files for bankruptcy protection: Gone in a flash [economist.com]

    I'm not sure how much of that is accessible to nonsubscribers...

  • Ultimately- they did try changing to digital- and as pointed out above, they pioneered digital. That's not why they failed- they failed because they produced a low quality product. Their name soon became synonymous with sub-quality cameras. They could no longer fall back on the reputation with film- because it was a completely different product.

  • No one knows what destroyed Kodak. Maybe never will, because there are so many reasons and every little group wants to take sole credit for figuring it out, for their little group having the power to destroy a big company.

    The techies think its digital cameras. After all, they destroyed all other former film giants; Oh wait, the didn't.

    The photog-groupies think they failed technically or failed in marketing film beginning the slide (sorry for the pun) decades ago and they never really recovered from Fuji.

  • I would of kept purchasing kodak if they hadn't pulled the stupid bit with their docking stations being different for each line of cameras they sold. It's bad enough when many companies can't settle on a simple USB plug in but when you have to throw away your old docking station and printer because you changed to a different model line just so they can force you to rebuy stuff - that was too much for me.

    I ran into that on a warranty repair. They no longer supported that model and sent me a replacement that

  • Yes they embraced digital, but not full heartedly. And they had a good brand name but did not capitalize on that with their cheaper cameras.

    When digital cameras came out, people bought Kodak for brand quality. Over the years it just turned into cameras with a Kodak label slapped on. The attitude: We have to be in this market, but these aren't the real camera buyers.

    I got an older 8MP non-Kodak, which allows for manual focus, manual stops, and exposure settings! The 7MP Kodak Easyshare has none of that, just

  • They failed to produce compelling digital products. It really is that simple. Kodak had an early lead on the consumer space based on brand alone, much later than most would have imagined, especially among female buyers. The software bundled with the cameras was equally bad.
  • by guruevi (827432) <evi.smokingcube@be> on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:19PM (#39178495) Homepage

    I know several people that worked at Kodak and I interviewed quite a few times with them. IMHO these are the problems:

    - They didn't want to believe digital was going to take over the market. They believed analog was superior (which it was back in the day) but also that it wouldn't improve and people always would need analog copies. This is true to an extent but their developing process was horrendously overpriced and the stores that developed internally went with Fuji or any other competitor.

    - Bad management. They had several layers of management and most of them were incompetent. There were entire divisions being ran without the knowledge of Kodak leadership. Duplicated efforts, bad building, bad quality assurance, several layers of customer service and technical service. Even their later printer divisions suffered from the old structure.

    - Patent warfare. Instead of trying to compete they started using patents and contracts as an offensive measure which brings some cash in the short term but it burns out really quickly as their competitors could easily pay for the settlements and the limited settlements they did have (as many of their patents were invalid) could not account for the waste that is still going on to this day.

  • once digital got decent enough where people actually wanted them, then every electronics maker in the world started making them, and where was Kodak? Sitting around with a mediocre "me to" product on the shelf with 1000 others.

    I always kind of thought it snobby of them, why should I buy this camera? cause it says Kodak on the front? that Toshiba has more features and better image quality for about the same price, and the last Toshiba product I bought wasn't a chunk of shit ...

It is the quality rather than the quantity that matters. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. - A.D. 65)

Working...